A wise man on Twitter once said, "Y'know, if a game on Vita starts with the letter "D", chances are it's very much worth getting." While that might sound like a bold, offhanded statement one makes on a social media site that encourages spouting the first thing that comes to your mind, this comment actually holds up quite well when put to the test. The meaty Disgaea titles, the visual-novel-meets-murder Danganronpa games, brawler Dragon's Crown… all of these titles are quite good, and some may even say these games are reason alone to buy Sony's portable.
But today, I'm not talking about any of those worthy purchases. Today, it's all about Demon Gaze—a dungeon crawler for the Vita that was released this year by Kadokawa Games. While there have been a rather surprising amount of dungeon crawlers this year, Demon Gaze may very well be the best one of its genre released this year… and no, I'm not just saying that because it begins with the letter 'D'. Here are six Demon Gaze features the make it stand above its peers.
Okay, this probably sounds a little weird. Unless you're playing a retro title, pretty much every video game allows you to save. Moreover, this is an RPG, and an RPG without some kind of save feature… well, if that exists, that's a terrible thing.
So what makes Demon Gaze's saving abilities stand out? Well, in most dungeon crawlers, you have a hub world to buy items and save, but once you enter the dungeon, you're on your own. You can't save while crawling the dungeons, and if some unfortunate incident were to happen (and since dungeon crawlers are typically quite difficult, this happens a lot), you'll lose all the progress you made. Run into a difficult foe, or a poisonous trap and can't escape before your party members succumb? Well, you're out an hour or two of progress.
However, Demon Gaze features saving within the dungeons. Of course, you can't save at any time; if you could, it would completely destroy any kind of challenge the title has. Instead, you can save when you come across and tame Demon Circles. There are typically 5-10 of these in any given area which a demon rules, so they are pretty ample, but not so much so that they are mere steps away. Having this ability to save within the dungeons really removes a lot of the frustration a typical dungeon crawler has, without ruining the challenge by not being everywhere.
So, as with any good RPG, in Demon Gaze, you level up. Leveling up is a typically standard affair: You fight enemies and defeat them, and by doing so you get experience. Get enough experience, and you level up. Once you level up, you can choose to put points into certain stats to increase them.
And… that's about it. Leveling up is a relatively simple process in Demon Gaze, and honestly that's what I like so much about it. In most dungeon crawlers, when you level up you also get skill points to dump into different skills on a skill tree. Skill trees can feel like such a crapshoot, though; without proper research or knowledge of the game's intricate mechanics, you're more to less stuck with choosing skills that sound useful, but might end up being complete duds. It's especially disheartening to dump several levels worth of skill points in a particular branch of a tree, only to find the skill you were working towards don't work out with your party set-up, or are only useful in rather rare situations. Many dungeon crawlers offer re-specs to lessen the pain a bit, but having to pay money or lose a couple levels because you couldn't have known that one skill was a bust still stings.
But in Demon Gaze? You just level up, and learn the skills of your chosen class at predetermined levels. Easy. Not only that, in the end, leveling up doesn't even matter that much when compared to the next point…
So, remember the Demon Circles I was talking about earlier? Well, they have another purpose other than allowing you to save your game. When you get into random encounters, the rewards from defeating foes is typically rather miniscule. You can some experience, a meager amount of gold, and sometimes some loot that is specifically to sell for a little more gold. But, they also sometimes drop gems.
Gems, despite sounding precious, aren't actually used for selling; instead, you take them to the various Demon Circles and use them to summon beasts to fight. But, different from the normal encounters, these monsters actually drop weapons and armor when you defeat them, the loot dependent on what type of gems you used to lure the monsters.
For Demon Gaze, having up to date equipment is far more important than having a couple extra levels, so this method of selecting what kind of loot you'll get from the battle helps to mitigate the amount of grinding you'll have to do. Say, for example, no one in your party uses spears: You never have to use a Spear Gem if you don't want to, so unless you use the Random Gem (which can give you anything), you'll never get a weapon you can't use. On the flipside, if your magic users' defense is beginning to lag behind, you can run around the Circles using Light Armor and Hat gems, and get plenty of new equipment with only a little effort, effectively streamlining your grinding to make it as painless as possible.
Finally, obtaining and selling equipment is more or less the only way to make any sort of money in this game, which is especially important considering…
…that you have to pay rent. Oh, you thought the owner of the Dragon Princess Inn was really going to let you stay for free indefinitely? Well, you're sorely mistaken. Every time you return from adventuring, you have to pay Fran for staying at the inn, the amount dependent on how many party members you have and what level they're at. It's never an extravagant amount, but the rent helps to stress the importance of managing your money.
That's not the only thing you need gold for, either. While you won't be needing to buy new equipment, you do need to raise money to buy rooms for new party members, buy healing items that are actually effective, to pay the mortician to upgrade your equipment… and the list goes on. Since money in itself is a rare commodity that you mainly get from selling equipment, Demon Gaze forces you to balance your limited funds and making sure you have enough to pay the innkeeper at the end of it all. Most RPGs give you an excess of funds, but in this game there's always something you need to dump more gold into… and never enough of it to get everything you want.
Most dungeon crawlers don't really have interesting NPCs, or good stories. Demon Gaze at least tries to tell an interesting tale, though it ends up being a bit… bad. The excessive fanservice doesn't quite help its case, either.
But, at least the characters that stay at the Dragon Princess Inn are pretty interesting. Throughout the game, you'll have many opportunities to interact with the various NPCs, and they are an interesting bunch that helps to break up the constant dungeon crawl. They aren't revolutionary character personalities or anything, but they all manage to provide some interesting dialogue that adds to the whole experience.
I have a confession to make. When I play dungeon crawlers, there's nothing I love more than completely destroying the game with crazy set ups and awesome skill combinations. Game balance? Why would I want that if I can decimate the final boss in a couple turns of badassery?
Thing is, I'm also a little lazy. While I'll read up a bit on what other people recommend and look into some other things, I'll never go as far as to plan out my entire party growth. Instead, I'll just pick the classes and skills that look neat and hope they work as expected. But Demon Gaze, with its linear leveling, makes it so I don't mess everything up horribly during the early game. Also, most of the classes have some great synergy with one another, so as long as you pick a somewhat balanced party, you won't be stuck.
Oh, and Holy Shield? Broken, awesome, and practically needed to get through the final, sprawling dungeon unscathed.
There are plenty Demon Gaze features to love, and it's highly recommended if you're a newbie or a veteran to the genre… but honestly, there is one aspect of the game that kind of makes a sore point that I can't end this review without talking about...
In most dungeon crawlers, you have a lot of flexibility over how your character looks and what class they use, and other than the linear leveling system, Demon Gaze is no exception. For each party member, you can choose their looks, voice, class, and name amongst a bunch of preset options, allowing you to make a unique party (or just a Disgaea based one, if you're inclined to download the free DLC).
The problem with Demon Gaze is that they're a little too free with it. For example, you can change anything you want cosmetically about the main character, but the game explicitly states that, no matter what changes you make, the characters of the game world will still refer to him as a male human of the Gazer class. Therefore, it seems a little odd that you can make him look and sound however you want; it might seem… progressive to have a bikini wearing catgirl as the protagonist that all the ladies are swooning over, but the narrative itself makes no attempt to hide the fact that cosmetically, you've made a wrong choice.
Also, for the other party members, matching up the right class and race matters, as each of the five races have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, while this is all implied, it's never explicitly stated that different races have different stat cap levels, and many players won't find that out until it's too tedious to build up the 'right' race/class setup. Honestly, it's actually sort of minor (for most races, unless you choose something really weird like a Dwarf Wizard, the stat difference is only three or four points), but it can be a bit of a bummer if you didn't know of it ahead of time… and if you did know, you might feel as though you're shoehorned into specific combinations, sort of ruining the point of customizing characters at all.
But even that gripe aside, Demon Gaze may very well be the best dungeon crawler to release this year… and maybe even one of the better Vita titles in general. As long as you don't mind some crazy fanservice, and aren't afraid of dungeon crawlers (really, I don't blame you if you are), this title's definitely worth a pickup.